It finally hit. After years of wondering what was wrong, who was crazy, and how did this happen, the reality of behavior as abusive hits like a ton of bricks. The insight is simultaneously overwhelming, shocking, frustrating, disgusting, and demeaning. But there it is: the answer that was longed for was never fully considered until this moment. Then everything became clear.
At first, it seems as if a thousand miles can be seen at once with every small piece falling into place. The intense fear that suddenly appears from the abuser’s glance makes sense. The increase in panic attacks over not responding to a text fast enough to satisfy the abuser is understandable. The constant state of anxiety even at night without any real relief despite numerous efforts and methods becomes transparent. The abuse fog has finally cleared away.
This is a precious moment which unfortunately does not last long because neither the circumstances nor the relationship have changed. The temptation is to allow the deep depression that quickly rises to place the person in a state of inaction. This is precisely what the abuser is counting on: their victim, even after realizing they are being abused, will be so damaged that they will be unable to act. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are seven steps come out of the abuse fog:
- Know the type of abuse. There are seven major types of abuse: physical, verbal, emotional, mental, sexual, financial, and spiritual. Do an inventory of each type of abuse to see which tactics the abuser employs. Most abusers have a couple of “go-to” methods that they reuse over and over. Know what that looks like and call it by name.
- Study the abuser. Everyone has weaknesses and vulnerabilities. In this case, the abuser has mastered the art of learning the victim’s susceptibility. The reverse must happen to keep the fog away. Look for signs of defensiveness, repeated words or phrases, nervous gestures, and emotional reactions. Most likely these are fairly obvious. In the past these subtleties were used to enforce submission, now they should be utilized to reveal vulnerability.
- Begin with the end in mind. What is the end game? Is it to get away? If this is too hard to answer right now, then decide to wait for 30 days. Use this time to gather more evidence and then make a decision at the end of the period. The decision is one of three options: to stay, go, or revisit in another 30 days. This technique gives the fog a deadline instead of it feeling like it will never end.
- Be patient. It takes time, energy, effort, and strategy to escape from an abuser. Depending on the type and amount of abuse, this could be days or even years to get away. There will be plenty of time later to process the whys. For now, the focus must be on looking for that window to get away. Be patient and on constant alert for when the moment occurs.
- Think strategically. The abuser has perfected the win-lose strategy where they always win at the expense of the victim losing. Big wins without practice are not likely, similar to the reasoning behind practicing before a sports game. So start small with unspoken victories and then work up to the larger wins. While the overall focus is on the long-term goal, short-term successes build confidence.
- Emote quietly. The ability to think clearly is much easier if emotions of anxiety, anger, sadness, and fear are released. Don’t dismiss these emotions because they are very useful in motivating a person to change. However, a build-up of unreleased feelings could result in a volcanic like explosion. This would definitely be used for the worst by an abuser. Instead, find safe places to let out the emotions. Crying is an excellent way to do this in a very short period of time.
- Be at peace with the fog. Relieve the moment when the fog was lifted and things became clearer. This can be done daily if needed to remain on task. But when the fog resettles, don’t fight it, which is a waste of energy and effort. Rather, be thankful that it is there. This way, the only thing that can be done is what is visible in the immediate. That will keep a person from getting overwhelmed with too many options.
In the end, only the abused can make the decision to leave. It is infinitely easier to do this physically when the choice has been made mentally. Use the fog to regain perspective so the best outcome can be realized.